A California federal court ordered the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to fully reinstate an Obama-era oil and gas waste prevention rule, deeming the agency's postponement unlawful.
"The court finds and declares that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management violated the Administrative Procedure Act ... when it issued a notice on June 15, 2017 ... postponing the compliance date for certain provisions of the Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation Rule ... after the rule had already gone into effect," a U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California judge said in an Oct. 4 judgment.
The BLM regulation, finalized in 2016, limits methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal and tribal lands.
The Oct. 4 court ruling called the BLM's June endeavor to postpone the rule a "mockery" of the Administrative Procedure Act, saying the BLM had disregarded its legal obligations under the act.
The act allows for the postponement of the effective date of an agency action, but it also requires a notice and comment period and a judicial review, which should be done before the rule has taken effect. The BLM issued the postponement five months after the rule's effective date of Jan. 17 and did not allow for notice and comment, the ruling noted.
The notice also tried to postpone the compliance date, even though the act only allows delaying the effective date. The court said the compliance date is different from the effective date and the period between the two dates allowed energy companies the necessary time to adjust their operations to be able to comply. The BLM's argument "collapses the clear statutory distinction between the two periods before and after a rule takes effect," and a postponement would cause the energy companies to discontinue their planned adjustments for compliance, according to the ruling.
The BLM on June 15 issued the notice to postpone the rule after President Donald Trump on March 28 directed government agencies to review rules that affected the development of energy resources. Under the rule, energy companies have until Jan. 17, 2018, to comply, but the BLM had planned to delay the compliance date.
California and New Mexico, along with the Sierra Club and other stakeholder groups, filed the lawsuit against the BLM and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in July.
Separately from the court case, the BLM on Oct. 4 put out a notice detailing plans for suspending key parts of the rule until Jan. 17, 2019. The BLM will take comment on its latest proposed suspension.
Responding to the Oct. 4 court ruling, the Sierra Club vowed to maintain its opposition to the administration's environmental policies.
"We will continue to fight back against Donald Trump's reckless and unlawful attacks on our air and water — and we will continue winning," Kelly Martin, Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign director, said in an Oct. 4 statement.